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MR. URBAN, WHEREAS the Spectator* of glorious and immortal memory;
has tried and convicted the Rebus of a complication of crimes, of ignorance, false taste, and folly; and condemned it for a spurious and unnatural excrescence of wit ; in pursuance of which condemnation it ought immediately to have been banished these kingdoms, and never to have appeared here again.
And whereas, notwithstanding the censure and condemnation it then received, it begins to make a fresh appearance and to meet with a kind reception and visible encouragement in your Magazine: it is therefore high time, in order to curb and restrain this growing evil, and to prevent the further effusion of all such spurious wit, and elaborate trifles, to enter into an inquiry after the origin and name, as well as the nature of a hebus; and to bring it once more forth, and to expose it to open view, and to make a public example of it, that so they who are guilty of such a profanation of wit may be ashamed any longer to persist therein, and they who are yet innocent, may, by their example, learn to beware.
The word Rebus is taken from the ablative case plural of the noun Res, and in its literal sense denotes the intimation, or signification, a man gives of his opinion, affection, or intention, by things, instead of words, and the making material and visible objects the interpreters of our hearts, and the signs and tokens of the ideas which (without words) we would communicate to any of our fellow creatures,
Where words are wanting, or where men of two different languages meet together; or where words either spoken or wrote are liable to be fished out, or intercepted; or where we are inclined to convey our minds in a manner more especially striking and emphatical; on these and all such like occasions, significant emblems, and expressive signs are either absolutely necessary or highly convenient; and it many times so falls out that a visible model, a rude sketch, or imperfect delineation, causes a quicker apprehension, a deeper impression, and a stronger conviction than the most literal descriptions, or florid metaphors are able to produce, In any such case a Rebus was proper and beautiful, and fully answered the above-mentioned etymology of the word and end, and design for which it was made use of, and herein
* Vol. I, No. 59,
its true nature did consist; but afterwards models and copies of things, as well as originals, and gestures and actions as well as sensible objects, came by use and custom to be reckoned in the same class, and to pass under the general denomination of a Rebus. To give you a few instances of these several kinds of a Rebus.
When King Darius sent to the Scythians to demand earth and water, instead of a verbal reply, they'sent him a bird, a frog, and a mouse, together with five arrows, leaving him to extract their answer from these symbols; and, as I remember, Buchanan, in his history of Scotland, tells us, that when a friend of Robert Bruce wanted to draw him away from the English court to Scotland, he sent him a pair of spurs and ten broad pieces.
Another kind of Rebus is either an actual model, or a representation in basso relievo, or à graphical delineation in shades and colours, of animals, rivers, trees, mountains or castles, in the manner of the Egyptian hieroglyphics; where these copies are either carved, engraved, or painted; and the sense and meaning of the author is to be gathered from a judicious interpretation, and apt connection of these figures.
A third species of a Rebus is, when pregnant actions are performed, and gestures made use of, expressive and sig. nificant of the secret sentiments, advice, and admonition of the authors of them; under which class that action of Tarquin in striking off the heads of the most eminent poppies in his, garden, will for ever remain an illustrious example.
To these three species of mental interpretation, or dumb expression, we freely allow the word Rebus to be truly and properly applied, and under these precise limits we absolutely confine and restrain the word. According therefore to this standard thus formed and established, let us now consider and examine the modern Rebus, soʻ frequent in the magazines, and see how well it agrees and tallies therewith.
Now in order to the formation and construction of a modern Rebus, a word or name of some place, person, or object must be sought out and made choice of, which when found and fixed upon, must be laid down and stretched forth in order for an anatomical dissection. It may consist of two, three, or four syllables, the more the merrier, then it must be disjointed and laid open in all its parts. If a compound, the several ingredients of that composition are to be separated one from another, to be laid apart and examined distinctly. If it be no compound, then it is to be resolved into its syllables, and afterwards into its simple elements; the vowels are to be considered in one light, the consonants in another, the letters are to be surveyed in their natural order, then in their numerical capacity, then with a view to the word or words they are able to produce, by inversion or transposition in their own or any foreign tongue, in any living or dead language. Thus is the poor word forced to undergo a most dreadful inquisition; to be cast into a variety of forms, and examined under every different shape and posture it is able to endure; it is put to the rack and mangled and tortured without mercy, neither is it suffered to have a moment's rest, so long as there is the least sense of life, or drop of blood remaining in it.
If the three or four initial letters of that word happen in the same order to be three or four initial letters of some other word, whether belonging to land, sea, air, or fire, to animal or vegetablc, to any art, science, or profession, or whether belonging to the French, Greek, Latin, or our own mother tongue, and if the things themselves couched under those words, be as wide from, and as contrary to each other, as light is to darkness, and truth to falsehood, yet you are to take two or three quarters of that (not thing but) word, which in like manner added to other parts of other words, which happen to agree in the same letters, till you have by this means gone through the whole word, and then after joining and cementing all these parts, thus collected, into one word, you are called upon and invited to a wild goose chace*, to trace out and extract the wonderful mystery that lies 'covered and enveloped under this cloud of words; and this ænigma, thus formed and constructed, when covered over with a poetical dress, and tagged with rhyme, is thenceforth dignified and distinguished by the stile and title of a Rebus ; a name as properly derived from Res, and applied to such conundrums, as Lucus is from Lur, quir, non lucet.
An example will fully illustrate this affair: the word Birminghani after it is properly dissected and disjointed will appear thus Bir-min-g-hain; then say
admire: That is often confined in castle of wire; Three fourths of an herb that à garden doth yield, And a term used by husbandmen ploughing the field; With that part of a swine that is now much in fashion, And a town you'll discover in this brave English nation.
Take three fourths of a creature which many
* Wild goals chace, we are informed is the right expression.
From which poetical composition, if you are endowed with a proper degree of sagacity, and a great share of patience, you may at length extract the several constituents of the word Birmingham, and after having unravelled the important mystery, and forced the citadel, notwithstanding all its deep intrenchments, you may then, in an extasy of joy, cry "Euphra, and be amply rewarded for your pains and trouble by the satisfaction of so happy a discovery. A modern Rebus therefore is a fiat contradiction, pretending to deal with things, when all the while it is concerned only in Jetters, syllables, and words; it is nothing but a mere shadow of a species of false wit; it has no foundation in nature, but only in the mere arbitrary formation and casual similitude of words; its subsistence is entirely precarious and liable to be lost and destroyed, together with the words on which it depends; do but offer to translate a Rebus into another language and the charm is immediately dissolved, and the wit, whatever there was, is all vanished into smoke.--I would, therefore, recommend the study and composition of the modern Rebus to men whose knowledge is confined to words, and no ways conversant in things, whose senses lead them to thrash, sift, and grind words down to powder, and thence to work them up again into whatever form or similitude they please; I would likewise reconimend to their care the Anagram and Acrostic, and suffer them in good weather, as often as they pleased, to amuse and divert themselves with the echo: in doing which they will follow some great examples, and I would have them henceforth known and distinguished by the stile and title of word catchers.
And as for you, Mr. Urban, I think you would act a judicious part, and agreeable to the majority of your readers, if you would lay all the nigmas, Conundrums, Anagrams, and Acrostics, by themselves, together with all the Rebuses, that your correspondents furnish you with, and, when they rise to à sufficient number, to publish them in a supplenient separate from your other Magazines, by which means other more useful materials may be inserted in their room, and your Magazine may be free from the imputation of delighting in and encouraging any such low and spurious productions, and wretched pretensions to taste and wit. If
you approve of and comply with this request, you will very much oblige
Your humble servant, 1753, Jan. July.
VII. Text and Gloss, whence derived. MR. URBAN, THE busy and inquisitive nature of man is not content withs knowing things are so, but will be prying into the causes and occasion of them; and this curiosity, which is certainly very laudable, when restrained within proper bounds, extends even to languages, in which there is hardly a word, a metaphor, or an allusion, but what we want to know the bottom and original of; for, though the meaning of the several expressions be well enough understood, that does not satisfy, but we are desirous of knowing, at the same time, how they came to import such and such things. Hence arise philology, etymology, annotations upon authors, books of rhetoric, and the like helps of literature, which, since the restoration of it, about 300 years ago, have been so well received in the world.
There are few, for example, who are ignorant of the sense and meaning of the word text, but how it grew to signify the word of God, many, perhaps, would be glad to know. We have it from the Romans, who, from the similitude subsisting between spinning and weaving, and the art of composing, both in verse and prose, applied to the latter several expressions proper to the former; hence Horace,
tenui deducta poemata filo, and Cicero, texere orationem, and contexere carmen. Amongst the later Roman writers textus occurs often in the sense of a piece or composition, and xaritoxúv came to denote the word of God, just as the general word scriptura also did, But this is not all; the method of writing the scriptures (and some few other books) before the art of printing was invented, was thus, as I here represent it, from an old MS. of the New Testament, of the vulgate version, now before me,
MATTHEW vii. 23.
in nullo approbavi, sed reprobavi.
qui operamini, non cedite a me omnes qui opera- dicit qui operati estis,
Nonnovit lux tene. brus 1. non aspicit, qua, si aspiceret,ienebr non essent.
, * non ho novit, ergo cos qui mandata ejus custodiunt. mini iniquitatem.
sed qui injudicio, licet non habeatis facultatem peccandi tamen habetis affectum.